The Other Country is a collection of columns. That the author wrote for various publications. And have been compiled into this book under four very broad categories. For me, there were two themes, one of the women in India. This section cuts across geographies and social ladder. Another section is the world of non-English speakers for English speakers. Having grown up in small-town India and having lived her later life in a Metro, the author can relate to both. And also relate to the transitions that happen when people move from rural areas to urban. And how they relate back to their hometowns.
She has traveled extensively across most of north India. South is kind of untouched. And is able to bring out stories that most journalist’s today miss out on. And the stories that mainstream English media chooses to ignore. As you read, you get introduced to a part of your own backyard, that you always knew existed. You probably thought you knew, but maybe you did not.
When she talks about women, she tells you the tales of women who fought against the established order. Sometimes by choosing to do what they want to do. And sometimes by running away from the establishments. And doing what they thought was right for them. The acts may look small if you do not read the context in which they were done. If you understand the context, you would admire their courage. Then she talks about the other challenges and dilemmas that women in India face. Here I admired her sensitivity to the women no matter what strata of society they came from, whether they were marginalized or super successful.
She is able to relate to the worthlessness that as educated and capable women feel when they give up their careers for the sake of raising and taking care of a family. As much as she is able to relate to the everyday struggles of the women who work hard to make a living.
Non-English and English speaking population in India are two entirely different sets of people. Each of whom is too engaged in their own lives to think or read about the other. Media in this country has somehow aligned itself with these two groups. And has contributed to the rift or the distance between these two. The English consumer is not able to relate to Non-English speaking, does not get many opportunities to interact with them. And hence in their minds, they are all simple villagers or small towners who do not understand the challenges of urban living. They cannot be more wrong.
People living in small-town India are as smart and as shrewd as anywhere else. They have their own power systems. And their own ways of manipulating the government machinery. While still portraying a simple face. An anecdote in the book from a village of how they milk the pre-election schemes and make fool of the system is a very good example of this. The author also tells you a whole lot of corrupt industries that are flourishing in certain parts of rural India. Like illegal gun making and an ensured passing of exams. Which apparently everyone is aware of but no one is willing to do anything about it.
In the last part of the book, author talks about some personalities with fondness that includes her mother, her father-in-law, and singers like Gangu Bai Hangal and Begum Akhtar. She had personally known all of them. It was good to read about them through her interactions with them. I have read her mother Shivani during my growing up years. I was very happy to read about her and the kind of humor she was capable of displaying even when she knew the death is so close by. But, I did not understand the relevance of these stories in the book. I am not complaining about them.
Since the book The Other Country is a collection of columns, there is no obvious theme running through them. Yet the focus areas of the author loosely bind them. Now the big complaint I have with the book is the number of editorial errors it had: Spelling mistakes, half sentences, missed parenthesis. I have never read a book with so many mistakes in it. So obvious that it seems editors even forgot to run the spell check. I am willing to let go of it in a novice’s book or a book from a new publisher. But, a book from the leading publisher authored by one of the most respected journalists of our times…. Naah…
Read this book The Other Country, to understand the India that you probably do not get to know first hand. Read it to know the sensitivity of a journalist who can relate to both the worlds and can talk to one on behalf of the other.
You may buy this book – The Other Country Dispatches from the Mofussil by Mrinal Pande at Amazon.